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Lending

FHA to Realtors (and everyone else): We’re not lowering rates

But acknowledged that rates may have reached a “tipping point” that could drive buyers away

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The Federal Housing Administration has responded to claims that its mortgage insurance rates are driving buyers away. Speaking at a conference of the Mortgage Banker’s Association, FHA Commissioner Carol Galante told the crowd that the premium increases were necessary to fund the agency’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund, and that FHA is not planning to reduce its rates. But she acknowledged that the increases may have reached a “tipping point” that could drive buyers away.

“We’re reaching a tipping point where we believe that further increases would reduce access to credit,” Galante said. “However, now is not the time to roll those premiums back. Right now we are priced appropriately and are reaching out to creditworthy individuals.”

The National Assocation of Realtors disagrees with Galante’s viewpoint. Recently, NAR President Steve Brown sent a letter to Galante. In that letter, he wrote “I am writing on behalf of the one million members of the NAR with concerns about the FHA’s high annual mortgage insurance premiums and mortgage insurance that is required for the life of the loan. Home purchases are becoming increasingly out of reach for many qualified borrowers who rely on FHA financing.”

Brown’s letter said that many of the potential homebuyers can’t afford the FHA rates and can’t afford private mortgage insurance either. Brown’s letter also claimed that as many as 125,000 to 375,000 prospective buyers were priced out of the market in 2013 by the FHA’s high insurance premiums and mortgage insurance requirement.

But Galante told the MBA that the government views the MMI fund as necessary. “The administration is very concerned in expanding access to responsible credit,” Galante said. “The President’s 2015 budget demonstrates the continued strength of the MMI and helps us toward our goal of achieving homeownership for creditworthy individuals.”

Galante also said that the FHA supports housing finance reform and the proposed shuttering of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “We all understand the serious challenge we’ve had in the housing market on access and affordability,” she said. “Housing finance reform is about getting it right for the future. We believe that private capital should be at the forefront of the system, so we support the wind-down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

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